Takeaways from a Trip Well Spent: My Time in Uzbekistan

By: Olya Lutchyn, Director for WTO and Multilateral Affairs, U.S. Lead for Uzbekistan’s WTO Accession 

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Uzbekistan with the United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai and a handful of my colleagues at the agency to discuss Uzbekistan’s motivation to join and contribute to reforming the World Trade Organization (WTO), the criminalization of domestic violence, and the significant labor reforms underway in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry. 

Throughout my visit, I was excited to learn more about Uzbekistan’s strong desire for domestic changes at all levels for the benefit of its people, its request for continued U.S. support for its accession process, and the current state of Uzbekistan’s development in many areas of its trade regime. 

It was this trip that confirmed for me Uzbekistan’s assertions in Geneva that its WTO accession is a top priority for its government. With Uzbekistan’s recent Presidential Decree from June 2024, I saw its government taking steps in the right direction and recognized its willingness to start addressing the many issues that were raised in Geneva. It was also clear that while political support for such reforms exists, promoting and explaining the benefits of joining the WTO to the average citizen could still be improved.   

During my trip, I had the opportunity to visit the new Office of the Special Representative of the President on WTO issues, Uzbek Agency of Plant Protection and Quarantine, the Agency for Technical Regulation, and the State Customs Committee.  I also visited state quarantine and testing laboratories where I learned about recently implemented new technologies. 

Over the course of one year, Uzbekistan created the new division on WTO within the Administration of the President with over 40 experts across the Government.  It was inspiring to see that many young professionals from different agencies are given opportunity to work together in one office to reach a common goal of joining the WTO in the nearest future. 

Throughout my visits to other agencies, I was surprised by the level of automation across the Uzbeks’ trade-related procedures, especially the availability of information online for domestic producers and traders, the promotion of paperless environments, and the use of electronic payment for all transactions. 

For example, the representative from the Agency of Plant Protection and Quarantine showed me its online system that monitors land, plans for soil inspections, and automates procedures for permits and certificates.  As in the United States, Uzbekistan provides electronic phytosanitary certificates for trade with over 100 countries. Uzbekistan’s expert was also excited to share his story of visiting a neighboring country to observe a dog sniff inspection and utilizing this experience in Uzbekistan.  It was also interesting to see Uzbekistan’s mobile laboratories, which allow for performance of soil analysis on the go. 

Agency of Plant Protection and Quarantine

At the Agency for Technical Regulation, I visited the national lab that performs voluntary testing.  Despite the availability of a variety of modernized equipment, it appeared that the lab was underutilized.  In addition to the national lab, Uzbeks have an option to use accredited private labs.  

While visiting the State Customs Committee, I was inspired by its leadership’s pride in reforming its customs regime over in the past several years.  Rather than taking an easy but expensive way to purchase an online system, they hired IT experts who developed Uzbekistan’s own platform within a short period of time. Now the government can help neighboring countries to modernize their systems. 

State Customs Committee